02 November 2012

Finding Hope in H.O.P.E.

by Jenna R. Smith, Staff Writer

     The current population of Allegheny County Jail is 2,600, and of these 2,600 inmates, 65% will recidivate. However, since October 2006, more than 2,300 males have participated in The Foundation of H.O.P.E. Pre-Release Program at the A.C.J. Of those male inmates participating in this program, only 18% of male graduates have returned to jail. More than 1,100 women have participated in the program as well. Female graduates recidivate at a rate of only 16%.
    Recidivism occurs mainly because inmates are not adequately prepared to overcome the obstacles that caused them to commit the crime in the first place. The Foundation of H.O.P.E. confronts recidivism by providing inmates with support, guidance, and direction while they are serving their time and after their release from jail. In 2006, the A.C.J. established the faith-based “Pod of Hope” for men, and in 2009, a pod was added for women. Around 90 inmates live together in the Pod of Hope and meet over an eight-week period for over 210 hours of group work. The program provides inmates with extensive rehabilitative remedies, such as programs on interpersonal relationship skills, addiction and recovery issues, life skills, parenting skills, and much more.
Pod of HOPE.  © Foundation of Hope 2012.
      Another important feature of this program is the mentor aspect. Newly released inmates are paired with a mentor, who provides the inmate with friendship, support, and assistance in making the transition from prison life back into mainstream society. Mentors assist their mentees with a variety of tasks: driving and accompanying them to A.A. and N.A. meetings, helping them find housing and employment, and bringing together the inmate and his or her family to become part of the community of faith.
    A Federal Bureau of Justice Assistance Second Chance Act Mentoring Grant funds the H.O.P.E. Aftercare Mentor Life Coaching Program. The Second Chance Act is a first-of-its-kind legislation that authorizes federal grants to government agencies and nonprofit organizations to provide employment assistance, substance abuse treatment, housing, family programming, mentoring, victims’ support, and other services that can help reduce recidivism.
     On Oct. 23, 2012, Duquesne University School of Law’s Criminal Law Society and Christian Legal Society hosted an educational program entitled, “Reducing Recidivism in America’s Prisons.” The program featured Professor Daniel Kunz, a graduate of Duquesne Law and Graduate School of Business, a Supervising Attorney of Duquesne Law’s Veterans Clinic, and board member of The Foundation of H.O.P.E.
       The Foundation of H.O.P.E. is a ministry of Christian Associates of Southwest Pennsylvania, a regional ecumenical agency whose mission is to be a “unifying voice in the name of Jesus Christ for the Mission of the Gospel and the wholeness of Communities.”
Since 1985, Christian Associates has worked with Allegheny County to provide chaplaincy services for all faith groups at the Allegheny County jail.

If you are interested in mentoring a prisoner at the A.C.J. and are committed to making a difference in that person’s life, you can apply to become a mentor by contacting the Director of H.O.P.E. Aftercare or visiting www.foundationofhope.org.